Pep Guardiola defends Mikel Arteta's touchline antics and claims critics are jealous
Pep Guardiola has launched a staunch defence of Mikel Arteta’s touchline antics by claiming the success of Arsenal has put a target on his former assistant’s back.
The Manchester City manager, who faces Arteta in the FA Cup fourth round at the Etihad Stadium on Friday night, reckons their friendship may not be enough to prevent them from clashing in the future.
Arteta’s recent behaviour on the sidelines came under fresh scrutiny on Sunday when the Arsenal manager was booked for reacting furiously to a foul by Luke Shaw on Bukayo Saka during his side’s 3-2 win against Manchester United.
It happened only weeks after Arteta was criticised for losing his temper during Arsenal’s 0-0 draw against Newcastle United after being angered by two penalty decisions that went against his team.
But Guardiola, who has faced criticism of his own touchline behaviour, believes Arteta’s critics are just looking for ways to try to “undermine” him now he has guided Arsenal to the top of the Premier League and said he could sympathise with the Spaniard having received similar treatment.
“When you are top of the league they have to undermine you for another reason,” Guardiola said. “They are doing that right now. I know quite well this situation.
Asked if the criticism could be bred from jealousy at Arsenal’s re-emergence as a title force, the City manager, leaning forward for dramatic effect, said: “Absolutely.”
Guardiola has often cut an animated figure himself on the touchline and was criticised for ranting at Southampton’s Nathan Redmond at the end of a game in November 2017.
“Anything can happen on the touchline in the moments of the game,” he said. “I teach him [Arteta] a few things but this … it comes from himself, his mum and dad, his character and that was already there.
“Mikel … I know him and I had the feeling during the time we worked together that what he is doing, it is not fake, it is him. So, when we were making a training session and in a game, always he was complaining about referees, and that was as an assistant coach. It is what it is. So, after that I am not a judge … sometimes I behave as well in this way.”
Guardiola said he had not spoken to Arteta since exchanging Christmas and New Year wishes but admitted that there may come a day when they, too, clashed on the touchline, despite their friendship and mutual respect.
Arsenal lead City by five points in the title race, with a game in hand, with Friday night’s match a precursor to their league meeting at the Emirates Stadium next month.
“He’s a rival, of course he is,” Guardiola said. “He wants to beat me and I want to beat him. I know how we both are and in defeat we are not the best friends in the world. From my point of view I have a huge respect for him as a person, as a manager. That’s not going to change if we’re going to fight on the touchline.
“Sooner or later it’s going to happen, I guess, but when that is going to happen it’s not going to change the respect I have [for Arteta] or anything. That’s all I can say.”
Guardiola believes Arteta would have been his natural successor at Manchester City – had he not left for Arsenal. Asked if there was ever a possibility of Arteta succeeding him, Guardiola said: “I am pretty sure if I would have left before.
“He would be here and he would be the best, absolutely. But I extended the contract, I am sorry, and he didn’t wait, so it could not happen, but definitely [yes].”
Guardiola said he always sensed that Arteta, who spent the final five years of his playing career at Arsenal before retiring in 2016, held a special affection for the north London club and was never going to reject them when they came calling.
“I am not a guy to say, ‘No, you have to stay with me’. Everyone has dreams,” the Catalan said. “I know he went to his club, the team he dreams of. He’s a supporter [of Arsenal], for the fact he played there, he was a captain there. He loves the club.
“I remember when we were together here [at City] when we score goals he jumps a lot and celebrates – except one team. One team every time we score a goal, I jump, look back, and he was sitting there. It was Arsenal.
“It was that moment I said, ‘That guy likes Arsenal’. Like me, training here or Barcelona if I’m training as assistant and Barcelona call me, I will go. My club.”